Arkansas River Park in Downtown Pueblo, Colorado 2019. (Photo PULP)

Extreme whitewater festival highlights Ark River Fest in Pueblo

UPDATE Event was cancelled earlier this week and will not be hosted this weekend.

Bob Walker likes living on the edge. So much so that he named his 26-year-old business on Union Avenue across from City Hall “The Edge.” There he sells and rents downhill skiing equipment, mountain-climbing equipment, kayaks, boogie boards, surf boards, paddle boards, and the like.

Now, when the folks at Pueblo Parks and Recreation Department came to Walker and asked him about holding a memorable summer event that would attract locals and, as he said, “get people to pull off the road” as participants and spectators at the Pueblo White Water Park near the Fourth Street Bridge (they suggested kayaking), Walker told them he was interested.

“It would be a chance to get away from that ‘nothing to do in Pueblo’ [stigma],” Walker said.

But he explained to Parks and Rec that there were already summer whitewater kayaking events planned throughout the state that attract that sport’s top professionals. He recommended river surfing, boogie boarding, and stand-up paddle surfing instead.

Walker had held four of what he called “informal” surfing, boogie boarding, and paddle surfing competitions at the city’s whitewater park on the Arkansas River in the past attracting about 40 to 50 participants. The participants came from as far away as Grand Junction, Boulder, and Denver.

The events were mostly advertised by word of mouth and by posts on the Colorado River Surfing Association’s Facebook page. Yes, there is a surfing association in Colorado. Cowabunga dudes!

So the inaugural Ark River Fest was planned. However, the event’s June 22 date had to be postponed. Amanda Cesar, the city’s recreation supervisor, said the decision was made to wait until the Arkansas River had “more manageable water flows that are most conducive for a successful whitewater festival.” Apparently the melting of the higher-than-average mountain snowpack from this past winter had made the river too tough to tame.

According to Walker, the water at the park in June was reaching an intensity of 4,500 cubic feet per second, or cfs. He said wave speeds of between 2,500 cfs and no more than 3,000 cfs are more favorable to surfing. “Otherwise the surf gets too high for non-whitewater crafts,” Walker said. So even living on the edge has its limits.

Now the Ark River Fest is scheduled from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. on July 20 at the park which is located at 600 Rapids Place. Cesar said parking for the event will be available “along Corona Avenue and in the Blocks area.” She added the city will be working with The Edge to organize the event and provide the volunteers and staff (about eight to 10 people, according to Walker). The Pueblo Police Department will be assisting with patrols in the area and the city’s Fire Department will have its swift-water team on standby should something go wrong. The river festival will be sponsored by Black Hills Energy and the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce.

“The Ark Fest promises to be an exciting whitewater experience created to introduce and expose Pueblo residents and visitors to river surfing and other whitewater recreational activities,” Cesar said.

Walker hopes to see “about a couple hundred people” at the event. He said the surfing will occur on the third drop-off or drop of eight drops engineered into the river years ago to replace the old Fourth Street dam. He added that vendors will be on hand as well as booths set up by climbing, cycling, archery, and fishing clubs. There will also be music at the event and food trucks.

Walker cautions that the professional surfers, paddle surfers and boogie boarders competing at the river fest might make their respective sports look too easy and thereby entice children attending to replicate their fetes. But rest assured mom and dad, safety demonstrations will also be held at the event to include such precautions as wearing life vests and head gear.

“Getting started in extreme whitewater surfing doesn’t have to be too expensive,” Walker said. The average boogie board can run about $50 and provides a good introduction to extreme whitewater sports.

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